Murat Nemet-Nejat responds to Dubravka Djuric's post

Dubravka Djuric's post can be found here >>

Thank you for your wonderful, thought-provoking post. I would like to respond to the issue of a nationalist language and poetry as it works itself out in the Turkish context and also to your speculation on what a "nationalist literature" must really mean in Turkey, namely: "and what is contemporary serbian or turkish poetry tradition? it is enlightenment romantic context through which the political elites of these nations identify themselves in time and posit it as a universal image of its nation."

There is no question that Turkish critics (and a few poets) who see Turkish poetry in western ideological terms, as a conflict between communist ideology and corrupt "lackey" Americanism see Turkish poetry in terms you describe. The best example of this is in their attitude towards the poets Nazim Hikmet and Orhan Veli, who lived about the same time. The more widely known of the two, Hikmet, a communist, whose poetry was suppressed, spent most of his time in jail. Veli, whose poetry seems almost about nothing, was quite popular, and to this day people know many of his poems by heart. Years after their deaths, the poet Attila Ilhan, quite characteristically of a certain point of view, claimed that the Turkish government pushed Veli's popularity in order to suppress Nazim Hikmet's poetry, as part of a political campaign. Ilhan called Veli a "state poet." in an analysis which basically would agree with your concluding words, "populism in its parodical humor, and entertaining folklore may looks like subversive, but it is always object of manipulation of cultural elites and state apparatuses."

I completely disagree with this view, as far as Turkish poetry is concerned. Attila’s Ilhan’s critique of Veli is occurs through the eyes of the cold war, to paraphrase your words, through the prism of a 19th century western ideology of Marxism. It distorts the reality of Turkish poetry as it has occurred. This does not mean my view leans towards an epic,” nationalism driven poetry. Such a poet does exist in Turkish, Fazil Hüsnü Daglarca (translated by Talat Sait Halman and published by Pittsburgh University Press in…). Some critics consider Daglarca to be the greatest Turkish poet since Hikmet. I disagree. Daglarca or Attila Ilhan do not appear at all in my anthology. That is part of its controversial status in Turkey.

To clarify how I think Turkish poetry, eda, creates an experimental literature (not necessarily in western avant-garde terms), I will turn to traditional spiritual troubadour poetry.

As I mentioned earlier, the traditional Turkish folk form is “koshma,” which consists of rhymed, syllabic quatrains in abab//cccb/dddb, etc, format with the final stanza mentioning the poet’s name. After 1923 and the establishment of the Turkish Republic, a number of poets for a short while used the rhymed stanza form as the proper form for a new Turkish poetry. The great contribution of both Veli and Hikmet is that each in his own way demolished this stanzaic structure releasing the cadential movement of nuances –a language of unfolding perceptions- which is the essence of Turkish. In my view, Veli is finally the superior poet –at least the one I feel closer to- because in his work this essence exist in a purer form, first, more directly abstracted from a demotic language of the street; second, because Veli refuses to use any other enhancing rhetorical means, besides cadence. His poetry has almost no metaphors, except as a joke, so that one is forced to ask after reading a Veli poem, why does the poem resonate so much, why is it so powerful. Many Veli’s poems are on the internet (http://www.cs.rpi.edu/~sibel/poetry/orhan_veli.html). Fifteen additional ones are in the Talisman magazine which just came out:

I love beautiful women,
I also love working women;
But I love beautiful working women

Because of the amount of time he spent in jail, there is something static about Nazim Hikmet’s Turkish. For instance, though his absolutely wonderful poems about his life in prison, in letter form to his wife, describe his longings, his thoughts, the life of the other inmates in the ward, the language in the poems shows almost no influence of the language of people around him, no slang, no particular twists of language, etc. It remains the same, basically the spoken Turkish of his aristocratic, upper middle class background remaining as given. In that sense, for Hikmet the language he uses is transparent.

The two major movements ensuing Hikmet and Veli in the 20th century, "The Second New" in the late fifties and sixties and "The Poetry of Motion" (my phrase) in the nineties, both start with an attack on Veli (the "insufficiency" of his poetic revolution) and end up embracing or emulating him.

After Hikmet and Veli, Turkish poetry crosses ideological, ethnic, geographical and historical and sexual lines. It has a democratic elasticity which admits almost any voice into itself, acting as a reflecting, constantly adapting mirror, a public Samizdat (an amazing number of major Turkish books, particularly in the early years, were self-published) . For instance, the Kurdish poems of Ahmet Arif, written in the sixties, say things that may have easily ended him in jail. His is a poetry written in the voice, point of view of mountain Kurds, a guerrilla lyric, describing their guerilla fights against the authorities. Ece Eyhan, his language seemingly the reverse of Arif’s, elliptic, cryptic, hermetic, injects Jewish, Armenian, Greek references, to their histories and holy books, and gay and hustler slang, their coded puns into his poetry (A Blind Cat Black and Orthodoxies, Sun and Moon Press, 1997). Ahmet Arif and Ece Ayhan knew each other. What is more they belong to the same movement, “The Second New,” to which also belong Cemal Süreya, Ilhan Berk (Selected Poems by Ilhan Berk, edited by Onder Otçu, Talisman House, 2004), Metin Eloglu, Edip Cansever and Turgut Uyar. This assimilative power, which draws and unites otherwise utterly heterogeneous tendencies within an underlying linguistic movement is unique to 20th century Turkish among middle eastern languages. From what Duvranka is saying it may be unique including Eastern European/ Balkan languages. In my view, it is unique, including Western modernism, with the possible exception of U.S. for which a poetics describing the nature of this unity has not been spelled out yet. I believe this enterprise should start with rejecting any idea of an American poetic tradition, replacing it with a poetics of cross currents, at the heart of which lies an analysis of the place of words in the American (and global) culture, and its struggle (of words) with the place of images in the same culture.

Echoing Dubravka’s comments at the end of her post, I would like to make two militant statements. They may be militant within the frame of this blog, but even more so within the framework of Turkish literature and criticism:

a) 20th century Turkish poetry does not constitute a national literature. The three prongs which define eda, its underlying concept, undercut the very idea of such national identity.

The first prong is geographic, eda’s focus on the city of Istanbul. Everything about Istanbul is non-unitary, an endlessly assimilative urban landscape. (In his Journals visiting Constantinople, Melville puts his finger exactly on this quality of the city.) First, the city is divided in its middle into two continents, Asia and Europe, by The Bosporus. Second, the city is the spiritual center of both East Orthodox Christianity (as Constantinople/Byzantium) and Islam (Istanbul). Located in its different parts, both minorities and Moslems inhabit the city (the red light areas belonging to the district mostly inhabited by minorities at the time). Parts of stunning, almost erotic beauty are intermingled with crooked, narrow, dilapidated streets. From 1950 to 2006, Istanbul changes from a city of one million to a 21rst century global metropolis of about fifteen million. Eda poets trace different parts of the city as if it were a body, with visible and hidden parts, to develop a narrative of subversive revelation, sexual, political, religious, etc. To see how this works, as the saying goes, one should buy the book, the Eda Anthology, and read it at some length.

In 1991, the poet Lale Müldür wrote the stunning poem “Waking to Constantinople “in which through sinuous, long lines she creates a poem of synthesis between the “dream world” of Byzantium and the Islamic “rationality.” The poem ends with the lines:

you are asleep now in the white washed byzantine room, you are very
alone. one of the ancients is saying, “Don’t cry.”
“Tomorrow is your birthday. Tomorrow a new name will be given to you.”

Müldür read this poem in a public park which used the be part of the grounds of the Ottoman Topkapi palace. She was booed off stage. The booing reflects both the power of poetry still in the Turkish culture and also its subversive transnational nature.

The second prong of eda is in the nature of the language itself. To find their way in it, first rejecting the Ottoman court language, Turkish poets turn to the early history of Turkish poetry, from Anatolia going back to Central Asia. In other words, consciously or not, they are not treating Turkish in national, modern Republic terms. As a consequence, often also only half consciously, they also drag in the pantheistic, animistic sensibility which is at the heart of Sufism. Particular since 1990’s, Turkish poetry has developed an exquisite assimilative sensibility pulling movements both from the East (the central Asia and the former Turkish republics of the Soviet Union ) and the West (former Soviet satellites) into itself, continuously in search of an evolving synthesis, what I call the poetry of motion.

What I am trying to say is that Turkish has created a poetry which speaks exquisitely to our time, where old boundaries have fallen apart and new ones have not been built yet, and what one has is only painful, gut-grinding process, change. It is a poetry of unfolding process, as Turkish is the language of thought unfolding. This poetry is the result of a perfect storm created by the almost accidental convergence of social, historical, geographic and linguistic forces –and not through the will of a national consciousness- the way suddenly an island appears, due to tectonic movements under water. Its shape can be hoped, guessed for; but not completely defined.

As a book in English, part of the purpose of the Eda anthology is to create a lingua franca, to refer to Linh’s beautiful space of sailors in his post, a pidgin English through which us nomads of different parts of the world can find a common language. One of the central books of Turkish poetry, Cemal Süreya’s “üvercinka” is translated in the Eda anthology as “Pigeon English.”



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